The Invisible Community

On a recent trip to South Africa to meet with Firelight grantee partners, one of the most inspiring moments was a visit with Motivation Community Development (MCD). MCD was founded by a group of youth in 2002. Firelight started partnering with them in 2004. We have seen them grow from strength to strength, developing innovative programs and expanding their reach. For example, their “Living Library” program helps Khoi San youth learn this endangered language from their elders. Their “Positive Entry” program assists people released from prison to reintegrate into their communities. Their organic gardening project has spread into over 700 homes.

When we visited MCD’s new site in Roodepan, they told us about their recent work with this “invisible community.”

Driving his own trash to the local dump one day, Peter met this “invisible community.” Overwhelmed by what he saw, he informed a grassroots organization, Motivation Community Development who was also unaware of this community.


makeshift houses

A community consisting of about 100 people, mostly undocumented immigrants of all ages, finds refuge in the city’s remains.


Man sorting trash

Their days are spent sorting through trash, scavenging through shards of glass, sharp rusted metal and other dangerous materials. They are looking for materials to sell to recycling companies or to use.


woman carrying two trash bags with fumes in the background

Toxic fumes from burning trash and dust from the tailings of the mine next door permeate the dump, making breathing and activity difficult.


woman filling trash bag at dump

Individuals sell one sorted bag for about 40 rand (~$6) to corporations who come to the dump to purchase the materials.


man drinking from plastic bottle at dump

In what is discarded by the city, this persevering group creates a small income.


children walking through dump grounds

Children live and work within this community, walking with or without shoes. Some manage to attend school.


large view of dump

Though working with limited resources, with the help of Peter and his family, Motivation Community Development brings a daily meal to the people living and working in the dump. Through this meal, they are establishing trust with this marginalized and exploited group of people. It is their first step in figuring out how to address the multiple issues faced by the community.


blue skies and trash on ground

Motivation Community Development works with each layer of this issue, initiating conversations with key local stakeholders: people sorting trash, municipal dump workers, and local government and businesses. They hope by working together to find sustainable and long-term solutions that lead to safer livelihoods for the people of Roodepan.